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Insights into Editorial: Taking national data seriously

Insights into Editorial: Taking national data seriously



In a digital economy, data is the central resource.

The Prime Minister recently compared data to property at the advent of the industrial era.  Data is being considered as a nation’s new wealth.

How data will be employed fruitfully, and its value captured, will decide a nation’s rank in the emerging new global geo-economic and geo-political hierarchies.

The global digital or artificial intelligence (AI) economy is currently a two-horse race between the U.S. and China.

It is feared that all other countries, including the European Union (EU) and major developing countries such as India, will have to become fully digitally dependent on one of these two digital superpowers.

This will considerably compromise their economic and political independence, something referred to as digital colonisation.

The shift to digital power, and its concentration, is very evident. Seven of the top eight companies by market cap globally today are data-based corporations.

A decade back, this list was dominated by industrial and oil giants. Almost all top digital corporations in the world are U.S. or Chinese.


Importance of Digital Economy in India:

Indian is moving towards creating a digital economy that will benefit the people and the government in various ways.

Following points explain the Importance of Digital Economy in India:

Increase in Revenues:

When the transactions are digitized, monitoring sales and taxes becomes convenient.

Since each transaction is recorded, the customers will get a bill for their purchase, and the merchants are bound to pay the sales tax to the government.

This, in turn, increase the revenue of the government- thus resulting in growth of the overall financial status of the country.


Removal of Black Economy:

When the transactions are made digitally, they can be easily monitored, any payment made by any customer to any merchant will be recorded.

This way, there will be no means for illegal transactions to occur. By restricting the cash-based transactions can efficiently expel the black economy.

Empowerment to People:

One of the biggest advantages of moving towards digital economy is that it gives an empowerment to the citizens.

When the payments move digital, each and every individual is bound to have a bank account, a mobile phone, etc.

This way, the government can easily transfer the subsidies directly to Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of people. People no longer have to wait to receive the incentives and subsidies that they are bound to receive from the government.

For example, the LPG subsidy that government gives to the common people. This subsidy payment is done via bank transfers.

Creation of New Jobs:

The digital economy has a lot of potential to enhance job opportunities in new market as well as increasing employment opportunities in some of the existing occupations in the government.

This way, the unemployment rate in the country is bound to decrease.

Paves the Way to e-Governance:

The quicker, safe, and more efficient alternative traditional governance, e-governance will be the ultimate outcome of the digital economy.

From birth certificate death certificate, everything is available online,

Thus, it is convenient for people to access the information they need on the go. Digital economy will definitely pave way to e-governance, where delivery of all government services would be done electronically.


Importance of data sharing:

All credible efforts to escape such a dismal situation, like in the French and the U.K.’s AI strategies, numerous EU documents, and India’s NITI Aayog’s AI strategy, focus on one central issue that is more data-sharing within the country, and better access to data for domestic businesses.

But how is this to be actually achieved when a few global digital corporations such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Uber, continually vacuum out India’s and Indians’ data, and then by default treat it as their private property, including freely sending it abroad?


Global corporations feel data as a Private Property:

  • Global corporations like to consider data as a freely shareable open resource till the data is out there, with the people, communities, outside ‘things’, etc.
  • But the moment they collect the data, it seems to become their de facto private property and they refuse to share it, even for important public interest purposes.
  • French AI strategy calls for an aggressive data policy, and control on data outflows.
  • NITI Aayog’s AI strategy has sought mandated sharing of data for social purposes.
  • This lawless logjam can only be broken by asserting a community’s legal right over data that is derived from, and is about, the community concerned, or about ‘things’ that belong to it.
  • This is the concept of community data inscribed in India’s draft e-commerce policy.


Data-based Intelligence to Reorganise Community Behaviour:

  • Community data gives a basis of detailed and deep intelligence about a community.
  • This can be used to manipulate people regarding various aspects of life from being in politics, electoral behaviour, social, economic etc.
  • Such data-based harm could be economic beginning with unfair sharing of the gains of digital efficiency, but also social, political security-related and military
  • Data about a group of people, even if anonymous, provide a very wide and granular intelligence about that group or the community.
  • The very basis of a digital economy is to employ such data-based intelligence to reorganize and coordinate different sectors, for example, Uber in transport sector and Amazon in consumer goods.
  • It is for this reason that the community (including a national community) should effectively control and regulate intelligence from such community data.
  • India needs to preserve its data policy space. We have not yet began dealing with the very complex data policy issues which include data classification, data ownership rights, data sharing, data trust and so on.
  • India does not have the US’ first mover advantage, nor can it follow China’s methods based on complete and arbitrary authority of the state.
  • In this very difficult situation, India has to explore paths based on the rule of law.
  • With regards to this, the draft e-commerce policy has taken the most important first step of instituting collective or community rights over the economic value of important data produced in and by India the very oil of the digital economy.
  • It is for this reason that communities, including a national community, should effectively control and regulate intelligence about them. This requires effective community control over its data that produces such intelligence.
  • A complex and gradual process of classification of various kinds of data, and developing governance frameworks around them, is required.


Preserving data policy space in RCEP Agreements:

  • The history of trade agreements clearly show that such public policy exceptions almost never work, especially for developing countries.
  • It will effectively be laying the path for permanent digital dependency, with India’s data flowing freely to data intelligence centres in the U.S., and now some in China.
  • From these global centres, a few global “intelligence corporations” will digitally, and intelligent-ally, control and run the entire world.
  • However, It needs to be understood that suitable data controls and policies are not to be exceptions but the mainstream of a digital economy and society.
  • News reports indicate that at the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade negotiations, being held with ASEAN, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, India may accept free data flow clauses with some public policy exceptions.
  • With the signing on a free flow of data regime, India will largely end up ceding most of its data policy space, and data sovereignty.
  • With countries yet hardly clear about appropriate data policies, and the data-related requirements for digital industrialisation.
  • India should not hurry in signing global free flow of data agreements.



The digital economy seems to be growing and flourishing very well even without such regimes.

Disengaging from signing binding agreements on uninhibited data flows across borders does not mean that a country would simply localise all data.

Some kinds of data may indeed need to be localised, while others should freely flow globally.

It just means that a country retains complete data policy space, and the means to shape its digital industrialisation, and thus its digital future.

Appropriate data policies must ensure that the required data is actually available to Indian digital businesses.

After all, most of this data in the first place is collected from Indian communities, artefacts and natural phenomenon, and is about them.

Our understanding in these areas is just now beginning to take shape. It will be extremely unwise to foreclose our options even before we discover and decide the right data and digital polices and path for India.